The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey

(New York: Harper, 2015), 243


  • “there does not seem to be a middle ground any more between having it all and having nothing” (xvi)
  • "Every time we rescue, hover, or otherwise save our children from a challenge, we send a very clear message: that we believe they are incompetent, incapable, and unworthy of our trust." (xxi)
  • by focusing only on the outcome we miss out on the learning to get there

Chapter 1 - history of parenting

  • read Little House on the Prairie books!
  • we should parent for tomorrow not just today, autonomy, resilience, independence, real competence and real confidence

Chapter 2 - Intrinsic Motivation

  • let their lives be a little harder today for an easier tomorrow
  • rewards get results in the short term but are poor long term motivators

Chapter 3 - Less is More: Parenting for Autonomy and Competence

  • the style of parenting she describes is called autonomy-supportive parenting
  • You have to love your children enough to put their learning in front of your happiness. Even if you would do something nice (bring forgotten homework) for someone else, the difference between a random person and your kid is that you are raising your kid and responsible for their growth and learning (46)
  • doing things for your kids does not equate to good parenting
  • testing limits is a way of testing independence and is natural, parents need to be consistent in enforcing the rules to give kids structure (49-50)
  • parenting is teaching, and teachers look for the teachable moments in everyday activities
  • never let your love for your kids be dependent on their performance
  • Controlling parents:
    • give lots of unsolicited advice and direction
    • take over
    • offer extrinsic motivators in exchange for behaviors
    • provide solutions or the correct answer before the child has had a chance to really struggle with a problem
    • don't let children make their own decisions
  • Autonomy-supportive parents:
    • guide children toward solutions
    • allow for mistakes and help children understand the consequences of those mistakees
    • value the mistakese as much as the successes
    • acknowledge children's feelings of frustration and disappointment
    • give feedback

Chapter 4 - Praise and Self-Esteem

  • prise for effort, not inherent qualities
  • adopt a growth mindset in your own life, even when it makes you uncomfortable
  • don't reinforce maladaptive reactions to failure
  • make sure your child knows his failures do not lessen your love or opinion of him
  • let your children feel disappointed by failure
  • don't offer to rescue your child from the consequences of his mistakes

Chapter 5 - Household Duties

  • include your kids in family disasters
  • call them “family contributions” rather than chores
  • nagging and pestering is the best way to destroy motivation (for both children and husbands)
  • don’t fight your kids' battles for them

Chapter 6 - Friends

  • encourage play dates, enforce the same house rules for guests, and be on the same page with other parents

Chapter 7 - Sports

  • sports are for a lot more than just winning (duh)

Chapter 8 - Middle School

  • “every intervention or rescue is a lesson lost”
  • turn failures into a lesson in resourcefulness
  • children need to learn study skills, either at school or at home (c.f. Mrs. Hollman)
  • every time you rescue your child you push their helplessness out one more day

Chapter 9 - High School and Beyond

  • “how do you expect your child to become an adult if you never let them learn how?” (158)
  • expectation that children be perfect is poisonous

Chapter 10 - Parent-Teacher Partnerships

  • show up at school with an attitude of optimism and trust
  • be on time, communicate well, be friendly and polite
  • have an attitude of respect for education
  • model enthusiasm for learning
  • invite teacher feedback
  • let teachers know about events at home
  • express interest in what is being taught
  • express gratitude
  • protect your child's right to fail
  • support the student-teacher partnership

Chapter 11 - Homework

  • set clear expectations, guide, don't nag

Chapter 12 - Grades

  • keep grades in perspective
  • emphasize goals rather than grades
  • let kids have autonomy over their learning
  • beware grading software portals (let your kids own their grades, not you)
  • reinforce failure as opportunity

Topic: Parenting

Created: 2019-06-17-Mon
Updated: 2022-02-21-Mon